Since being initially penned by physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Holmes has been portrayed with various degrees of success by numerous actors on stage, television and the big screen.
British director Guy Richie (Lock, Stock and Two smoking Barrels) and producer Joel Silver have decided to put a twenty-first century spin on one of the most sacred and enduring institutions of British literature with their new film, “Sherlock Holmes.”
The choice of Robert Downey Jr.(Chaplin, Iron Man) as Holmes is an inspired one. His near perfect English accent, various eccentricities, along with the wit and sarcasm of the super sleuth are captured quite admirably by an actor whose favorable acting fortunes show no signs of retreating.
However, Jude Law (Cold Mountain, Closer), playing the loyal sidekick, Dr John Watson, is without a doubt, one of the film’s highlights. Not only is his Watson, a more dashing, intelligent and thoughtful character than previous portrayals, he also brings a kind of balance to Downey’s more maverick Holmes.
Richie, whose successes have mainly been in films about London gangsters and their idiosyncratic behaviors, does not disappoint with the stunning visuals of the film. You could almost feel the cold and grimy London streets, hear the sounds of the horse-drawn cabs, and smell the countless bakeries interwoven with the stench of horse manure as if you were right there. Even the action sequences are impressive, but at times, overtly dizzying.
Hans Zimmer’s musical score is another winner as it succeeds in keeping in touch with the frenetic pace of the film. However, fans of Italian music composer, Ennio Moriconne, would swear that the background music was more than a tribute to his musical scores of the “spaghetti westerns” of the ‘60s.
Having said that, the many missteps of this roller coaster of a film cannot be ignored, no matter how well-meaning they might be. Holmes is shown as more brawny than brainy, think James Bond of the 1890s. His customary powers of deduction are relegated to a sort of after dinner smoke.
The main villain, Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong (Syriana) is basically a Bond villain intent on world domination, and is portrayed by Strong as one. Even the hilarious fight sequence between Bo.., sorry, Holmes and the hulking French henchman is a direct rip-off from a Bond film. Anyone remember, Roger Moore’s Bond fighting the giant Jaws in “The Spy Who loved Me” ?
Apparently, Watson is not spared this misguided attempt at pop culture references, either. It seems that the good doctor is channeling British sci-fi icon, Dr Who, when while fighting, he keeps shouting, “I’m the Doctor.”
Sadly, there is more. The seemingly homoerotic relationship of the two men, always spoken in hushed conversations by the fans in the past, is dealt with here in a way that reminds one of the classic ‘70s TV drama, “Starsky and Hutch.” They don’t seem to have a life without the other, no matter how hard they might try.
The character of Irene Adler, the only woman to have beaten Holmes in a battle of wits, in the classic story, “The Scandal in Bohemia,” is given a tragically underwritten role. Played by an out of her depth Rachel McAdams (The Notebook), Adler is shown as Holmes’ former flame and a femme fatale who will do anything to make a quick buck.
Her only worthwhile contribution in getting the new Holmes franchise rolling is to introduce the viewers to the impending introduction of Holmes’ arch nemesis, Professor Moriarty, in the sequel to come in 2011.
This film, which a lot of casual and new fans will unabashedly enjoy, should have been much more than the haphazard fare we are left with. The downright removal of Holmes’s cocaine and morphine use to give it a PG-13 rating leaves us without the disturbing dark side of the detective’s personality.
The fanatical legions of long time Holmes fans would not be totally wrong in feeling that Doyle’s famous detective and his cohorts are present in this film only in name. The personalities of the various characters, new and old, have been thoroughly “hollywoodised” to cater to the almighty dollar.
A pity really, since Downey, Law, Doyle and all our forefathers deserve a better film to rally around.
Oh well, there is always the sequel to look forward to.
In addition to the review, Review Fix has a podcast on the film, with Editor-In-Chief Patrick Hickey Jr. Senior Writer Olga Privman and Staff Writer Brett Allen.
You can listen to it here.